If good customer service isn't one of the most important priorities in your organization, then your business probably is being run by bean counters. Attending to the quality of a patient's visit most likely isn't on the radar screen because customer service costs money and requires a commitment to giving customers the treatment they deserve.
Customer service requires the willingness to show that you really care. This means not only accepting the responsibility of leadership but getting others to buy in, listening to others' needs and then putting others' needs before your own. So the opportunity is there, but how many healthcare organizations are willing to make the effort?
You need only to look at the airline industry to see the problems that occur when customer service lags. Airlines are failing to give customers information on delays and cancellations, and they are doing a poor job of handling overbooked flights. Like some in the airline business, you may feel that you are delivering good customer service. But are you?
Do you survey your patients and staff to find out how satisfied they are and ask for ideas for improvements?
Do you have a written mission statement or goals that focus on providing good service?
Do you train your front-line staff to deal effectively with the public via telephone, e-mail and face-to-face encounters?
Do you put new staff through an orientation process that focuses on patient service?
Does your computer system support staff in giving fast, efficient service to customers, patients, payers and providers?
Do you have a process in place that allows you to change policies and procedures based on the feedback you get?
Do you go out of your way to recognize and reward staff for good work?
Now rate all these things on a scale of one to five, five being best. If you rated most of these questions a one, I can almost guarantee you the bean counters are in charge and customer service is a low priority in your organization. Only when a major crisis hits, you lose patients or your market share slips will things change.
A good way to start would be to take a high visibility action. Ask the question: "What problems could we fix that the staff has been complaining about for more than a year?" Because if your staff is complaining about it, you can be sure patients aren't happy either.
One healthcare association kept saying that good service to members was important. But staff didn't feel management took service seriously. For years, employees had complained about the condition of the association's offices. It needed new carpet, fresh paint and some new artwork.
The top executive surprised everyone by refurbishing the offices. The simple, fairly low cost step said more to the staff than any speech could. Even more important, it was the beginning of a process that continues to develop today.
Don't try to do a comprehensive customer service plan all at once. Rome wasn't built in a day. Start with one specific item that needs changing and then develop the rest of the plan one step at a time.
Patience pays off,
Charles S. Lauer